Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sun, Fun, and Chupa Chups: The Joys of Summertime

I was having one of those banner days Monday (please insert sarcasm font here). As I pulled into Walmart parking lot to go buy my groceries for the week (so you know I was in a great mood), the thermometer in my rental car--a very chic Chevy Malibu--said the outside temperature was 101 degrees. (Don't even ask as to why I'm driving the Malibu this's a sad, unlucky story that I hope is over extremely quickly). As I trudged through the hot lava fiery depths parking lot, my shorts creeping up my never-svelte thighs, I started to question my love of summer. Despite the sweet ride I had, I was wondering what in the world is there to like about hot-as-Hades weather, 99% humidity, and the general feeling that it's too hot to live?

As I write, it is hotter here in North Carolina than it is in Las Vegas. Something is seriously wrong with that picture. You could fry and egg on the sidewalk, so long as you didn't want it over easy, because it's an inferno out there and your yolk would cook pretty quickly. I made the mistake of cooking a tomato pie last night for dinner, and having the oven on for an hour made our house so hot we barely had the strength to eat once the pie was ready. Okay, we managed to make it through not one but two helpings, but the struggle was real.

So why do I like this sweltering time of year? I took a break in front of the oscillating fan and gave it some thought. When I was a kid, summer meant packing our red and white Playmate cooler full of Cokes and packs of crackers and heading to the country club pool for the day. Breaks from swimming involved a trip to the pro shop where my brother and I would agonize over the very important decision of what flavor of Chupa Chups sucker to buy, then proudly tell the cashier to charge it to my dad's account and swagger back poolside. Then there was the family vacation each summer, usually to Myrtle Beach where we would feast on footlong hotdogs on the boardwalk, load up on "essentials" at Wings, and ride all the rides the Pavilion had to offer. During my high school years, my parents put in a pool in our backyard, and I spent those summer days floating, swimming, and sunning. My first summer during college, before my dad put me to work, involved sleeping late and catching up on Charlie's Angels reruns. Now, as an adult, any free Saturdays we have involve soaking up rays on our deck while sipping cold cocktails and catching up on our gossip magazine reading. I'm starting to remember how my fondness for June, July, and August came to pass.

There are some very great, familiar, and fun things that only summer can really offer. Things like lazy evenings lit up by lightening bugs, the joy of wearing flip flops (it's nearly impossible to be stressed out while wearing flip flops), time spent at the beach with your toes in the sand or on the lake with the wind in your hair. Fourth of July fireworks, the unmistakable smell of suntan lotion, swinging in the wooden swing on the front porch at my mom's house (in close proximity to the ceiling fans, naturally). Delicious, fresh summer tomatoes (and Duke's mayonnaise) to make tomato sandwiches, grilling out, baseball games. Watermelon, the perfect excuse to eat ice cream--to beat the heat of course, and mindless summer movies: explosions, and superheros, and dinosaurs, oh my! I could keep going, but I don't want heat exhaustion to set in....

Yes, despite the heat, there is still much to love about good ol' summer, and there's a little more than a month of it left to savor. I'm going to do my best to endure the heat, upper lip sweat and all, and focus more on the pleasures this time of year brings. Before you know it, fall will be here and it will be time to pack away all the beach towels, sunscreen, and flip flops in favor of jeans, boots, and jackets. We'll have left the pool vacant with the exception of water aerobics classes, and the beach will be emptied for the sharks to enjoy in solitude. In the meantime, grab a Popsicle, work on your cannonballs, and worship the air conditioning. It's summertime--enjoy, and I'll meet you on the porch swing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Feeding Frenzy

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a Hardee's commercial for a new "Most American Thickburger." This giant slab of fast food is a 1/3 lb. hamburger patty topped with 2 hotdogs and a generous fistful of kettle chips. The commercial showed the whole monstrosity falling from the sky like some great bounty of cardiac arrest-inducing harvest. Move over Whoppers and Big Macs, there's a new artery clogger in town. Even I, a lover of junk food who can Chex Mix it up with the best of them, was left thinking: what the what? I felt like my cholesterol went up just from looking at that beef behemoth. As my grandmother would have said, "Lord have mercy, now I have seen it all."

But I was wrong, because it was just a few days later (when my gag reflex had all but calmed down) when a friend asked if I had seen Pizza Hut's newest creation: the pizza with the mini hot dog crust. The need for this product is clearly for those who don't consume enough calories from regular pizza, and ergo have to supplement their intake and their sodium consumption with something wholesome and nutritious like mini hotdogs. (And please rest assured, the photo of that mutant pizza came from Google images, not from my kitchen. I have some standards, although they be low at times).
If that one didn't exactly whet your appetite, you should think about heading to Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Delaware, the home of of the "donut dog." Created by the folks at Krispy Kreme, this concoction takes the ballpark staple hotdog and tops it with bacon and raspberry jam, snuggled in a sugar-glazed doughnut bun. If you like food that has a real potential to kill you, this could be your weapon of choice.

I'm sure I'm showing my age with this, but I remember back in the good ol' days when Dairy Queen's chicken strip basket (you know, the one with the cream gravy, fries, and Texas toast) won the title of most fattening fast food meal. Now, with a mere 1,340 calories, it should probably appear on the light and fit menu.  I remember the days when we ate Oreo cookies just because they were chocolate and vanilla cream and a little bit bad for us, but just so dang delicious. Now, the fine folks at Oreo have to keep us happy and hungry with flavors like watermelon, red velvet, birthday cake, and s'mores (which, in my humble marketing opinion should have been called s'mOreos--a missed opportunity on the part of Nabisco if you ask me). All of a sudden, Little Caesar's is wrapping pizzas in bacon, and Applebee's contribution to the obesity epidemic is to offer unlimited free french fry refills--because Americans need access to all the fried foods we can possibly eat, right?

Aside from the obvious fact that the world has gone crazy, I think this full-on feeding frenzy has to be a rebellion against the barrage of healthy eating tips and trends that are constantly being pushed on us these days. I mean really, when is kale finally going to go away? People across America are saying, I see your organic, gluten-free lifestyle, and I raise you these chili smothered fries with extra Cheez Whiz. Yoga pant-clad people everywhere are running away from tofu and toward totchos (which, if you were not yet aware, are just like traditional nachos, with one very important twist: instead of tortilla chips, they are smothered tater tots).

Even the timeless Bloody Mary has been affected by this gusto for gluttony. Since the cocktail was invented in the 1930s, it has typically been garnished with a simple celery stalk, occasionally to be spruced up with a couple of olives or some pickled okra. Over the last few years, the Bloody Mary bar has become increasingly popular; it's basically a salad bar for booze that allows imbibers to hot sauce and garnish to their heart's content. Sunday, an episode of Food Network's show The Kitchen showed Bloody Marys garnished with an entire beef slider...a drink and a snack, as they called it. And with very little effort, I found this monstrosity on Pinterest:

Have. Mercy.

By my count, that's a pizza, four pieces of fried chicken, a double cheeseburger, onion rings, a sub sandwich, olives, pickles, fries, garlic bread, a jalapeno...and another smaller Bloody Mary. I think I'm having chest pains just from typing all that out. What's next? Years ago, Her Majesty Queen of Butter Paula Deen made my blood sugar quiver with her bread pudding recipe, made from doughnuts and sweetened condensed milk. By these trendy new junk food standards, that's practically health food.

Why don't we get rid of all those plain hamburger buns and replace them with two miniature pizzas instead? How much longer before we get rid of tomato sauce on pizzas--all those icky vegetables--and start using gravy or bacon grease? Is there a think tank somewhere working on increased, better uses for corn dogs? Why, despite all our advances in science and technology, does ranch dressing still seem to remain so underutilized? And excuse me, but why is there fruit in my banana split? Wouldn't that concoction taste better if we ditched the actual bananas and put hotdogs or sausages in there instead? These ideas are, of course, just a springboard toward more sinful snacking. I'm sure if America keeps going at its current rate and in the same decadent direction, we can find all kinds of delicious ways to shorten our life spans and rid the food pyramid of those pesky fruits and vegetables once and for all.

Now, pass the totchos. All this talk about gluttony has made me hungry.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Land of the Surcee

I love gifts. Not just getting them (I really love that part), but shopping for the perfect gifts, wrapping gifts, giving gifts--the act of surprising someone and making them happy is just one of my favorite things. I'm a girl who always brings a hostess gift, and I'm not afraid to start my Christmas shopping in July. Now, imagine my surprise this past fall when I was introduced to a gifting concept that was completely foreign to me: the surcee.

You may have seen it spelled circi, sirsee, surcy--or you may have never seen it at all. I know I hadn't, which now seems unbelievable to me, until my fabulous friend Jennifer not only explained to me what a surcee was, she made me the (very excited) recipient of one.

The month was September, and Jen and I were giddily plotting and planning a most amazing Prosecco-fueled tailgate for a Clemson football game. After hearing my somewhat lengthy list of menu items I was preparing to make, Jen wisely told me she would not bring food (we all know I had that part covered), but she would bring me a surcee. A what? "A present. A happy. A treat." That was her reply--I know because I kept her text for historical reference--and I immediately set out to investigate what I had been missing without the word surcee in my vocabulary all these years. The simple description my friend provided had already caused me to embrace this surcee concept, but when I came across this definition online, I just flat out fell in love:

A website called says of the surcee, "It is generally used by ladies who you mentally associate with white glovesiced tea, azaleas, and a quiet, genteel nature - southern belles, if you would. People though they may drive Volvos and use cellphones are like living anachronisms, bastions of the Old South in a modern world." 
My surcee, in all its orange and white glory.

Yes, yes, yes. Tell me, what isn't to love? While my quiet, genteel nature may be up for dispute, and I do not drive a Volvo, I am certain I will get no argument when I call myself a Southern belle (hence the name of this very blog you are reading). I've also Googled the terms and found that it usually means a small, unexpected gift. I'm not sure how I made it 30-some-odd years as a surcee stranger, but better late to the party than not there at all.

Ironically, I came onto the surcee scene thanks to my friend who is from Illinois; I have to say, she has certainly acclimated well to life in the South, as her penchant for big hair and monograms clearly shows. Our tailgate came together quite nicely, and on a beautiful Saturday in South Carolina, I opened my very first surcee and found (be still my Tiger-loving heart) a set of bracelets in my team colors. A girl could really get used to this. I also realize that in order for a girl to get used to this, the word about surcees needs to spread, hence this post. Read, learn, spread the word. We are a better world with surcees amongst us.

The fourth of July is fast approaching, and while I am exceedingly grateful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I'm even more thankful to have been born and raised right here in the South: the place where people still say sir and ma'am, the tea is sweet, fried things are considered their own special food group, and hearts are blessed on a daily basis. In other words, the land of the surcee. That is definitely something to celebrate.